Thursday, December 22, 2016

Let it Snow!

The semester is over, grades submitted, conferences attended and talks given. WyCEHG students are scattered across the globe, yet data must be collected. My role on the project relates to communicating the science, organizing and delivering outreach, rarely does it include adventures in the snow. Today, however, was a day to play.

Programs at the No Name site needed to be updated, one instrument was not communicating data to another, and it was snowing. The snow was encouragement enough for me that when the invite came to participate, I eagerly accepted my job – umbrella holder.  Up the trail I tromped behind my colleague ET, golf umbrella in hand and a pair of snowshoes on my feet. Wind-swirled flakes cut across our path as we ascended from the Green Rock parking lot.

Upon arrival at the station, we quickly stomped down the snow surrounding a near-by fallen tree to set up the computer and various additional pieces of equipment. It was a bit like I imagine the Hubble engineers to have done on their missions to fix their scope – heading off to territories unknown to fix instruments and allow a better eye on places unseen. My job was to quickly gather snow-depth from specific points around the station, all of which showed 70-80 cm of coverage and then protect the computer from precipitation.

ET opened the laptop and connected it to the station. The screen displayed a circling blue ball and read “Performing Updates, Do Not Turn Off.”  We looked at one another and considered our options, restart and revert, go snowshoe around a bit, shout, or wait. We chose to wait. Unfortunately technology was more patient than we were, and never did finish updating.

One of the takeaways from my day, aside from snow angles and trekking around a beautiful place with a wonderful individual is that, this is the nature of science and technology. Sometimes experimentation and data collection works in our favor. But other times it challenges us to go play and come back another day. We will return, computer updated and umbrella at the ready. Until then, let it snow… let it snow… let it snow!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

“Hey Now, do you want to play a game?” The robot’s eyes flash red to indicate it understands the question raised by the blonde haired smiling girl standing before it.

“Yes, what game would you like to play?” came Now’s response, to the delight of the group of children encircling the machine. Engaging with Now was just one of the many activities students engaged in during the chilly December Computer Science and Engineering day at the University of Wyoming. This event was held in partnership with the nation-wide hour of code, celebrating computer science and its application and came on the heels of Governor Matt Mead’s proclamation that December 5-11 would be Computer Science Education week.

Vice President for Research, Bill Gern, spoke to approximately 50 students and their parents about becoming engineers, the practical and fun applications of such careers and opportunities that await students here at the University should they come in the future. He shared tales of his own children pursuing computer science and the cool opportunities available to them now, as adults. 

An important element of the event was diversity. Students traveled among six different stations in which they experienced how code and computer science informs art while painting by code, ecology while testing water and light of plants through Arduino technology, developing and deploying secret messaging through code, moving robots by using brain waves, as well as the more traditional robotics activities.

Students came from across southwest Wyoming to participate. In addition to the coding activities, participants and their families attended a University of Wyoming men’s basketball game and watched the Cowboys defeat Montana’s Grizz.  

We offer many thanks to the professors, undergraduates, and graduate students who donated their time and enthusiasm with students! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Student Gets Ready to 'Rock' the AGU Conference

 After a semester of hard work University of Wyoming geology students have the opportunity to present their research at the AGU Conference in San Francisco December 12th - 16th. This is the largest worldwide conference in the geophysical sciences that brings together scientists, educators, and students. One UW student that will be presenting her research at the conference will be Casey McGuffy.

McGuffy, a New Jersey native, came to Wyoming after an undergraduate professor recommended she attend UW for her masters degree in geophysics. She became interested in geology due to her love of the outdoors.

Casey McGuffy working this summer in Jemez, N.M. 
McGuffy's research is focused on bedrock weathering at two mountain watersheds. Her first site is the Jemez Critical Zone, New Mexico and the Reynolds Creek Critical Zone, Idaho.

"The Critical Zone is a near-surface layer of the Earth that supports terrestrial life. This layer includes the bed rock up to the tops of the trees. So it is not only studied by geologists, but ecologists and soil scientists are also involved," McGuffy explains.

The Critical Zone site in Jemez, N.M. 

Over the summer McGuffy worked at the Jemez site, but she was unable to see the Reynolds Creek location. She used data collected by other colleagues from the Idaho site to contribute to her research project. McGuffy studied the thickness of regolith, the layer of soil, saprolite, and underlying weathered bedrock, to determine differences in weathering. The two zones have similar climates and ecosystems allowing for comparisons.

McGuffy found that the primary differences between weathering along the rock profiles were due to slope aspect. It was also noted that seismic profiles between the two sites lead to variations in weathering due to the different rock types.

Previously McGuffy had her undergraduate research presented for her at the conference, but this will be her first year attending. The AGU conference is also an occasion that is great for professional networking. As McGuffy finishes her masters degree, she wishes to create connections that could lead to possible career opportunities.

"I look forward to seeing other peoples research, talking with people about it, and attending different key note speeches," McGuffy adds.

We wish Casey good luck on her research presentation and all of her future endeavors. She is sure to 'rock' the field of geophysics.

Jemez, N.M. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Diving into Groundwater Research

This August, WyCEHG welcomed a new scientist onto their team, Dr. Kevin Befus. Dr. Befus works in the Civil and Architectural Engineering Department as a groundwater hydrologist.

Before coming to Laramie, Dr. Befus received his PhD from the University of Texas, Austin and went on to serve as a U. S. Geological Survey Mendenhall Research Fellow in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Dr. Befus's research is focused on how groundwater interacts with conditions at the Earth's surface.

"Groundwater is what I'm curious about. How does it affect everything else?" Dr. Befus said.

Groundwater acts as long term reservoir for water, but it does change over time. Dr. Befus is interested in how human uses are affecting the sustainability of the resource and how this in turn may affect system ecology, chemistry, and weathering of bedrock.

"Groundwater is a huge resource for producing food and our populations water. Over half of Laramie's water comes from groundwater. It acts as underground storage and a natural filtration system," Dr. Befus said.

Dr. Befus became interested in hydrology during college. After changing his major to geology, he went to Honduras to help install water systems. "It was a humanitarian extrapolation of what hydrology can do," Dr. Befus explained.

Dr. Befus also enjoys working in the field, and has experience working in Wyoming's natural habitat. As a graduate student he worked in the Bighorn mountains studying their geological background and structure.

"Research is a different way to enjoy nature. It's like hiking except you are learning more about nature in the process, there's an additional purpose behind it," Dr. Befus said.

As his research begins Dr. Befus is looking for graduate and PhD students to work as a part of his Water Hydrology Group.

"We will possibly have 3 students for the start of 2017. They'd work on projects ranging from mountain hydrology, and potentially groundwater connections to other surface water and reservoirs," Dr. Befus said.

This is the first time Dr. Befus has been a part of an engineering program. In the future he would like to be involved with the Engineers without Boarders program and would act as a faculty mentor.

"Engineering is the applied aspect of science. It's science that can lead to better problem solving and designing," Dr. Befus said.

While Dr. Befus thinks understanding nature itself is satisfying, he also emphasizes the importance of the application of science to local communities.  He looks forward to contributing to outreach efforts within the University community and on the Wind River Reservation.

"Communicating about science is important because it shows the value of science and how it can affect day to day life. It helps get people excited. Not everyone is going to be a water nerd like me," Dr. Befus said.

We are excited that Dr. Befus has joined the WYCHEG team and can't wait to see what he has to contribute.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ecology meets Technology

On June 21, 2016 girls from Laramie's Girl Scout troop participated in a Summer Coding Camp sponsored by the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute and Wyoming EPSCoR. The camp lasted for 3 days and took place at the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center.  The nine participants were anywhere from 10-15 years old.

The course focused on concepts from both ecology and computer science to help solve real world problems. Brian Barber from the Biodiversity and Institute and Liz Nysson worked on developing the curriculum for the course.

To begin, the girls were introduced to some of the basic background of botany. Then they began to learn python coding, a type of coding typically used for beginners.

The python coding was then applied to Raspberry pi computers. These small computers are about the size of a credit card and can be used with a standard computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

"They learned basic programs and set up the circuit.  One of the firsts tasks they were assigned was to make a blinking light," Barber said.

The Arduino board was another piece of technology used for the girl's project. The board is a sensor that can be used for a variety of projects. It has the ability to detect movement, water levels, and Ph levels.

The girls used the Raspberry pi computers and the Arduino board to create a sensor they could put into a houseplant. The sensor could track the well-being of the plant and could alert the girls when it needed more water.

"It actually had a function and they applied it to a real world problem," Barber said. After the camp the girls were also allowed to keep what they had made.

While ecology and computer science may seem like to two completely different subjects, they are both essential parts of scientific research.

"Technology and computers drive a lot of our research. It requires computational power, you can't analyze the data any other way, and some of it is so specialized," Barber said.

It is also critical that coding programs such as this one are targeting younger girls. This because research has shown that once girls leave the STEM fields, they usually don't return to them at older ages. This early engagement can help foster interest in these fields and will eventually lead to more women in science

"It's empowering. They can think I did this myself, now I have the courage to try something else even greater," Barber said.

Barber and other outreach coordinators are looking forward to see how they can expand this program. Some future program ideas include focusing a coding workshop for adults and connecting this coding to Citizen Science projects.

Friday, October 28, 2016

WyCEHG Voices of the River

Learn how one University of Wyoming student conducts research that reimagines the science behind water in the Mountain West. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Following the Flow

Better Understanding Water Processes in Wyoming 

Wyoming is a state that pays attention to water. As a semi-arid head water state, citizens and organizations need to know how much water we have, and where this water is going. With scientific research we can answer these questions. Working with WyCEHG, Associate Professor Ginger Paige has been able to conduct hydrology research that has been able to contribute to a better understanding of water processes across the state.

She became interested in hydrology after working with the Peace Corps for three years in Mali, located in West Africa. She worked on community development and technology to improve well construction and irrigation in the area.

She is currently working on two different research projects; one in the upper Wind River Basin watershed and another in the Crow Creek watershed.

"Wyoming is beautiful and I love the places where we work. I'd rather be doing the ground research than modeling. Measurements give you the chance to look at variability such as changing landscapes or changing soil," Paige said.

Through her research Paige has been able to quantify the return flow processes in the Wind River Basin using geophysics technology provided by WyCEHG. Her team has been looking at the partitioning of surface and subsurface water and mapping out the subsurface hydrologic pathways.

At the Crow Creek watershed site there is a focus on the partitioning of surface waters. The next step for these findings are putting it into a watershed modeling framework. This modeling demonstrates where the water is going; whether it returns to the stream, is transpired, or goes into deep percolation.

The results from this research will help inform water management decisions when looking at the tradeoffs between irrigation practices. 

"WyCEHG has given us new instrumentation and new ideas to expand our capability and allows us to work with partners across Wyoming," Paige said.

Communication with other stakeholders in Wyoming is an integral part of Paige's work. Part of the outreach that Paige has participated in includes Water Interest Group meetings.

"We will have three meetings over the five year grant. The first introduced WyCEHG and it's capacity, to water entities in the state and region, in terms of water resource questions, and the second highlighted the partnerships we've formed. The final meeting will be a summary of what we've been able to do and a pathway forward," Paige said.

WyCEHG also attends Wyoming's monthly water forums led by the state's engineer office to share information on their findings with other state agencies.

Paige has also worked with graduate students as a supervisor and project director.

"Graduate students are helping me with my research but also have their own research topics. For masters or PhD students its important that they have ownership for their own research and they tend to be allowed more freedom. We have shared goals, but we do want that ownership," Paige said.

The biggest piece of advice she has for students interested in science research is to find an area of research that they are passionate about.

"Find a piece that really interests you because science takes time. It's about asking the questions, finding the answers and taking the time to do field work or lab work," Paige said.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Arapaho Ranch Safari

By: Jennifer Wellman

Mentor program offers exploratory study for summer youth

During late July, several organizations on the Wind River Reservation collaborated to provide an interdisciplinary field camp, the Arapaho Ranch Safari, for students aged 14-23. The setting was Arapaho Ranch, a rural, historic ranch on the Wind River Reservation, northwest of Thermopolis at the confluence of the Owl Creek Mountains, the Absaroka Range, and Hamilton Dome. 

During the program, youth improved the Arapaho
 Ranch by working on service projects.
Run by the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the ranch includes a cattle operation, historic homesteads, and vast tribal lands and water for creative and scientific study. 

The Northern Arapaho Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Summer Program employs reservation youth in various tribal departments and businesses. This summer, with a grant from the US Department of Labor, WIA formed a partnership to create the Ranch Safari with Wind River EPSCoR, Maker Space 307, Poetics of Peace, Wind River Native Advocacy Center, Arapaho Tribal Health and numerous other artists and local experts. 

The Ranch Safari was the first, multi-faceted 5 day field camp for WIA workers that offered an adventure in filmmaking, cultural awareness, scientific study, and creative environmental exploration. 

The group set base camp at the historic old mansion, built in the late 1800's, and the Ranch's yurt, established in 2012 by the Wyoming Conservation Corps. Water conservation was critical during the week as the house's plumbing was not functional; students were able to use other local showers and bathrooms and had to haul water for drinking and cooking. 

Each day consisted of chores and activities, including assisting with cooking and clean up. Meals included fresh salads, lean meats, and delicious snacks to guide students toward healthy options that were easy to make, with assistance from UW's Centsible Nutrition Program

Youth went on a horse culture ride with Alison
Sage from Arapaho Tribal Health.
Ranch Safari highlights included: 
  • Documentary film-making with Alan O'Hashi, a regional film producer, using iPad minis;
  • Poetry reading and writing with henry Real Bird (Crow Tribe), the 2009-2011 Montana poet laureate;
  • Field trips to cultural and environmental sites: a buffalo jump, tipi rings, historic petroglyphs at Legend Rock, Thermopolis hot springs, and Anchor Reservoir;
  • Service learning projects at the mansion and the ranch headquarters, clearing vegetation and debris from the grounds and updating paint on a roadside fence;
  • Horse culture ride with Alison Sage from Arapaho Tribal Health;
  • Buffalo wallow ecology discussion with Jason Baldes, an Eastern Shoshone scientist and buffalo expert.

Ranch Safari mentors were:

Clarinda Calling Thunder, WIA program director
Jason Baldes, Wind River Native Advocacy Center
Hetty Brown-Tabaha, WIA Program
Alfred Burson, Arapaho tribal guide
Susan Grinels, Maker Space 307
Lorre Hoffman, Wind River Development Fund
Clina Longtimesleeping, WIA Program
Barbara May, photographer
Alan O'Hashi, Wyoming Community Media
Kelli Pingree, UW Centsible Nutrition
Henry Real Bird, Crow Tribe
Alison Sage, Arapaho Tribal Health
Marvene Thunder, Sky People Higher Education
Manuela Twitchell, local artist and poet
Jennifer Wellman, Wind River EPSCoR

In addition to US Department of Labor funding for the ranch Safari, Wyoming EPSCoR supported the purchase of supplies, food, and teaching materials. Additional funds were provided by a Wyoming Arts Council grant to Wind River Development Fund, a local non-profit. 

For more information on this project or other collaborative science opportunities on the Wind River Reservation, contact Jennifer Wellman at 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Spring Creek Water Project

On Tuesday Sept. 27, 2016 Spring Creek Elementary 3rd and 4th graders went to LaPrele Park to study human impacts on water and the water cycle. 

Prior to their field trip, the class had studied the water cycle, aquifers, and the effects humans have on water.

Wyoming EPSCoR was able to help teachers bring place-based education where students could preform tests and observe water close to home. Science and Math Teaching Center graduate student, Claire Ratcliffe and EOD coordinator Emily Vercoe went out with the class to help with class discussions and testing. 

Before they started testing, the class learned what an aquifer is and how features like a spring form in an aquifer. An example used was the Casper Aquifer. The Casper Aquifer accounts of 60-100% of Laramie's drinking water. Students were able to make personal connections to the science of water by studying it in the context of their local environment. 

Students tested water quality in Huck Finn Pond, a spring fed fishing pond. They were also able to test along Spring Creek. This creek is also spring fed, but comes from a different source further east. These two different testing areas offered the opportunity to compare and contrast moving and still water. 

The class conducted a variety of tests including; pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. Based on the information collected, students could make predictions on the health of the stream and pond. 

While testing, students had time to observe macro-invertebrates. Macro-invertebrates commonly found in the water of Huck Finn Pond and Spring Creek are stoneflies, mayflies, or sowbugs. Most students went hunting for crawdads, by far the most coveted catch of the macro-invertebrates. 

There was also playful creativity incorporated into the field trip. The students played "Macro Mayhem", a version of the game sharks and minnows. Students were asked to mimic a stream, helping them to see how sensitive macro-invertebrates quickly die off if stream quality is damaged.

To conclude their day of scientific explorations the class walked back to school along Spring Creek Road, making observations along the way. 

The class can look forward to another day out in the field on Oct. 10 when they return to the water cycle, with a focus on watersheds. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Snowy Science: "End of Snow" Film Premiere

The world premiere of "End of Snow" will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 at the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder, CO. "End of Snow" is a film that was produced by Day's Edge Production with support from Wyoming EPSCoR, University of Wyoming, and WyCEHG. 

Dr. Jane Zelikova, producer and talent in the film, has grown to be passionate about snow and the role it plays in our lives. She was inspired to document and explore the effects of climate change on snow in the Rocky Mountain regions. 

"I wanted to help make a film about science and the people and unexpected places where innovation can come from," Dr. Zelikova said. 

Dr. Zelikova talking with Bryan Schumanan, a geology professor at the University of Wyoming.

Dr. Zelikova became involved with the Wyoming EPSCoR program as a part of a collaborative research team that is characterizing the factors that influence snowpack dynamics in the Snowy Range Mountains.

After receiving a Wyoming EPSCoR grant in spring of 2015, the crew began filming in August.

Morgan Heim, "Mo", was the director of the film and was involved in the filming and editing process. Although she may be a terrible skier, she has been in love with snow from an early age. Growing up on the Virginia coast she rarely saw snow, and began to find herself craving it. When Dr. Zelikova asked her to help with the project, she did not hesitate.

"I would get to work with a dear friend on a climate change issue tailored to the environment and communities that I call home. This seemed like a way I could contribute," Heim said. 

Billy Bar, a resident of Gothic, CO, who has kept a 40 year record of snow in the area. 

Heim has affectionately called the film "her baby", but she was sure to mention how the project would not have been possible without the help of her team. 

"Jane was an inspiration throughout, and a great talent in front of the camera and with planning. Neil Losin, Nathan Dappen and Aly Nicklas all lent their considerable talents behind the camera. The whole team gave invaluable editing input. Kori Price, our production manager and assistant saved our butts and sanity more than once," Heim said. 

A still shot from the third chapter of "End of Snow" filmed near Big Piney, Wy.

Dr. Zelikova plans to continue her career in filmmaking and this past summer worked on a film about SRAP the summer research program for high schoolers funded by EPSCoR.

"I hope people walk away from the film with a better understanding of how climate change is influencing snowpack in the West. But even more importantly, I hope the viewers are inspired to do science because science is really just curiosity about how the world works and can come from unexpected people and unexpected places. In the end, I hope we show that breaking down barriers that silo us into "scientist", "rancher", "skier", or whatever, can really expand our potential and bring innovation to address the impacts of climate change," Dr. Zelikova said. 

For more information on the "End of Snow" and future screenings click here. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Own It! Celebrating UW Women in STEM

To highlight the achievements of women scientists on campus, Wyoming EPSCoR developed the Own It! Awards, a celebration of women researchers in STEM fields at the University of Wyoming. Last night, recipients were honored at a ceremony on campus. This event underlines the importance of visibility in STEM fields for women, highlighting disparities that increase as women complete their studies and enter the job market.

Young scientists in Wyoming were the first to receive Own It! Awards: a group of Girl Scouts in Laramie who participated in a year-long citizen science project with the Biodiversity Institute, collecting data about ecological conditions on the Laramie River.

Girl Scout hydrology researchers receiving their Own It! Award.

Next, audience members saw a multimedia presentation on the Bearded Lady Project by Dr. Ellen Currano, who used false beards to draw attention to a very real gender disparity in paleontology. You can learn more about her project at; a documentary created by Ellen Currano and her creative partners will premiere later this year.

Dr. Cynthia Weinig presented an Undergraduate Own It! Award to Jazzlyn Hall, a double major in anthropology and geography. One of the graduate supervisors who nominated Jazzlyn said of her: “Within less than a year, she has proven herself by leading two research projects in our lab while continuing two other research projects in geography and anthropology departments. She has presented her research at internationally recognized conferences, including the 2015 American Geophysical Conference in San Francisco.” Jazzlyn has also been awarded an NSF award for graduate research when she begins grad school at Columbia next Fall.

Dr. Indy Burke presented the Graduate Own It! Award to Karagh Murphy, who has published in a broad range of techniques including hormone manipulations, brain imaging, and behavior. She is currently the lead investigator for two projects seeking to understand the role of mirror neurons in vocal learning. Karagh has presented research at the international Society for Neuroscience conference, and is currently organizing Wyoming’s first Brain Awareness Week.
Student Own It! Award recipients Karagh Murphy (left) and Jazlynn Hall (right)
Dr. Shawna McBride presented a Staff Own It! Award to Dr. Susan Swapp, a Senior Research Scientist and the Manager of the Materials Characterization Laboratories in the Department of Geology and Geophysics. As Dr. McBride said, “For over 20 years, Dr. Swapp has built one of the best material characteristics labs in the West.” Dr. McBride also highlighted Dr. Swapp’s exceptional mentoring of younger students, so that they can increase their confidence and expertise in using instruments in their research.

Arts & Sciences Dean Paula Lutz presented two Faculty Own It! Awards. The Early Career Own It! Award went to Dr. Melanie Murphy, a faculty member in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences in the department of Ecosystem Science and Management. Professor Murphy’s nominees described her as “a terrific scientist” and an “outstanding mentor.”

Dr. Cynthia Weinig won this year’s Own It! Award for Tenured Faculty for her work in the Departments of Botany and Molecular Biology. Dr. Weinig is also a member of the leadership team for the UW Science Initiative, part of the team developing the National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, and is now helping to lead an effort to develop a large institutional grant to better understand Wyoming’s microbiomes. 

Own It! Awards Presentation by Dr. Ellen Currano
All of the presenters acknowledged a spectacular field of nominees, making it difficult to choose just one deserving winner in each category. Presenters also spoke about the value of mentorship in their own careers, and how inspiring it was to see such a vibrant community of women in STEM fields at the University of Wyoming.

Finally, Megan Candelaria of WYSTEM presented an Own It! Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Dolores Cardona, who has worked for decades to improve the UW community by bringing awareness to issues related to race and gender. Dr. Cardona created the Summer Research Apprentice Program (SRAP) thirty years ago, still going strong as a part of EPSCoR’s education and outreach efforts. Dr. Cardona also spearheaded the Women in Math Science Engineering group (WIMSE), a vital professional development resource for young women on campus.

In her closing remarks, Liz Nysson expressed her hope that the Own It! Awards would become a UW tradition: “Wyoming EPSCoR hopes that the Own It! Awards will continue on an annual basis, so that the achievements of UW women researchers in STEM can be celebrated.”

Posted to the UW EPSCoR Blog by Jess White

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Critical Hydrology Research in the Critical Zone

Bryan with the undergraduate research team about to depart for Pennsylvania
(Photo courtesy of Bryan Shuman)

With support from EPSCoR, Paleohydrology Professor Bryan Shuman took four UW undergrads to Pennsylvania this past summer to study the long history of drought in the area. With a study area of hundreds of square miles and timeframe of thousands of years, the team sought to answer questions about the hydrological past and illuminate the future.

Ground-penetrating radar allowed the team to see the ancient shorelines of these lakes, establishing a water record dating back millennia. The team pushed plastic tubing into the lake bed to collect sediment core samples. This technique allows researchers to grab a cross-section of silt layers. 

Undergraduate researchers hard at work collecting samples on the lake
(Photo courtesy of Bryan Shuman)
  As Bryan explains, “Because this is a history of drought in natural reservoirs – when water levels were high, when they were low – we can learn about hydrology and climate change over several timescales.” Lake sediment can also be used to plot forest fires, since researchers can measure fossil charcoal deposits from burned trees. “Everything washes into these lakes over time. They’re like time capsules, big memory cells that record environmental change.”

Why Pennsylvania? Ocean temperatures in the Atlantic influence conditions throughout North America. The Atlantic coastline also boasts several Critical Zone Observatories, which study the interactions between life on the earth’s surface, microbes underground, and water flowing through the ground. These complex processes generate soil, contribute to erosion, and determine what plants grow and which animals survive. The “critical zone” is the zone where this vital interaction between geology, hydrology, and biology takes place.

The EPSCoR grant offers Bryan’s team access to these Critical Zone Observatories, and two of these sites are in Pennsylvania. The team is interested in the role water plays in these interactions, especially as it changes over time. “It’s great to take students out in the field and have them see these things for the first time. Being out in the field is such a different experience from sitting in the classroom. Learning is so much more tangible when you can pull samples out of the ground.” 

Undergraduate research team with core samples
(Photo courtesy of Bryan Shuman)
The team found evidence of drastic rises in Pennsylvania water levels. “The magnitude of that change is kind of equivalent to going from the amount of rain we have on the Great Plans to the amount of water we have on the North Coast right now. Not making it a desert, but in terms of ecosystems and plants, that would be a pretty big shift. If you were to make Pennsylvania like Illinois, that would have a big impact on the water resources that people depend on and the plants they grow.”

So far, the results seem to indicate a large increase of water in the North Atlantic region, a pattern Bryan says is similar to most of the places in the US that he has studied. The pattern extends to Wyoming, which you might be surprised to learn is much soggier than it was a few thousand years ago. “There’s definitely precedent for Wyoming being drier than it is now.” The team confirmed an overall pattern of water increase, but also found evidence of droughts lasting not just a year or two but centuries.

Bryan believes that hydrological history in the state is crucial to awareness of water conditions now and in the future. “Water’s important. We need water, and we don’t know how constant our water supply is. Looking at the past gives us a chance to see how much it can change, and what that means for the land around us.”

Posted to Wyoming EPSCoR by Jess White

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Drawn to Biodiversity" Workshop Combines Observation with Creativity

Bethann sketching in the great outdoors
(Image courtesy of Bethann Garramon Merkle, (c) 2016)

Long before iPhones and waterproof cameras, scientists would often sketch their observations of nature. Last Saturday, the UW Biodiversity Institute held a workshop called “Drawn to Biodiversity” in which students received a short course on the use of visual notetaking and observational drawing.

Wyoming EPSCoR was a sponsor of the Drawn to Biodiversity workshop. According to Liz Nysson, Wyoming EPSCoR Coordinator, “It is important to merge art with traditional scientific fields. It allows researchers to observe the world differently, and communicate their discoveries in unique and compelling ways.”

Bethann Garramon Merkle, a graduate student in UW's MFA program, taught the course, which drew on her own experience as a science writer and illustrator. Her writing and illustrations appear in a syndicated column, Drawn to the West, in the Laramie Boomerang, as well as in American Scientist, Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, and EdibleMISSOULA.

Rosehips from Bethann's sketchbook
(Image courtesy of Bethann Garramon Merkle, (c) 2016

Bethann is experienced at helping others see the beauty of nature through art. On her website, CommNatural, she offers clients expert assistance with creating and publishing arresting visual and textual material. Her original artwork combines vibrant watercolor with agile pen-and-ink line drawing, a technique that captures the spontaneity and intricacy of the natural world.

Bethann designed the Drawn to Biodiversity workshop to cater to every skill level, since she believes that anyone can draw. “Drawing as we think of it today is based on a set of techniques developed during the Renaissance. These techniques absolutely can be learned, practiced, and improved - by anyone.”

As a sophomore at the University of Montana, Bethann was accepted into the Wilderness and Civilization program, a one-year multidisciplinary minor program where students learn about conservation issues. “Before this program, I was almost entirely unaware of ecology, conservation concerns, and food system issues.” Field journal practice was a major component of the program. “I had taken every science and every art class offered in my small rural high school, but the W&C Program was where I first learned these two disciplines could be complementary.”
Amphibian lore from Bethann's sketchbook
(Image courtesy of Bethann Garramon Merkle, (c) 2016)

Bethann’s science illustration relates directly to her science writing. “In a pragmatic sense, drawing compels me to look very closely at a given subject - much more closely than if I only describe that subject in writing. I also have to problem-solve visually, which involves capturing color in a visceral way, drawing and re-drawing a form until I have accurately captured the shape.”

The workshop on Saturday provided students a “toolkit” of basic skills that they could use whenever they had an opportunity to draw from life. Bethann relishes “guiding a scientist” through the creative process of drawing, and giving them the tools to solve problems and see the world in a new way.

In addition to the hands-on workshop, Bethann gave a seminar talk for the UW Department of Zoology and Physiology, “Drawn to Science: Exploring the Historical and Contemporary Synergies between Drawing, Creativity, and Science.” You can listen to a Wyocast recording of the talk here. She is currently working on a project on ecological concepts in Caldecott-Medal-winning children’s books, as well as an adaptation of “The Tortoise and the Hare” with naturalistic illustrations. 

For Bethann herself, art is a meditative experience: “Making art, particularly when I am outside, causes time to warp in a fascinating way…It’s as if there isn’t such a thing as time at all.”

If you are interested in learning how to draw from nature, you can download a field drawing basics guide from her website here.

Drawing Workshop for the Biodiversity Institute in August
(Image courtesy of Bethann Garramon Merkle, (c) 2016)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

STEM Summer Programs at UW

Energy Summer Institute students learn about temperature testing
on Prexy's Pasture

The UW campus isn’t just for college students during the summer. From May to July 2016, an estimated 600 middle- and high-school students will come to the University of Wyoming’s Laramie campus from all 23 counties across the state. Summer programs include the Healthcare Careers Summer Camp, Engineering Summer Program, Energy Summer Institute, Summer Research Apprentice Program, Women in Science, Summer High School Institute, Wyoming Energy Camp, and Upward Bound Math & Science. Most programs are offered at little or no cost to participants and serve students entering grades 6-12. 

Activity at a camp in conjunction
with the Teton Science School
Megan Candelaria coordinates a number of STEM programs for Wyoming students at UW through the new WYSTEM program. Megan grew up in Sundance, Wyoming. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Math from UW, and is currently finishing a Ph.D. in Math Education here.

As the WYSTEM coordinator, Megan works to bring together groups on campus and throughout the state who do K-12 outreach, making sure students, parents, and teachers can take advantage of STEM learning opportunities. “Since last year, we’ve generated a list of the summer programs provided by UW. I also work directly with students, and I’m currently working with the Wyoming State Science Fair to provide opportunities for STEM education to all students. We also bring six to eight groups of middle- and high-school students to campus each semester to do STEM activities.”
Students visiting campus for a STEM activity event

A summer program alum herself, Megan describes a thrilling experience: “I attended one of the camps on this list. It’s probably one of the reasons I ended up coming to UW. I was part of the Weather class, and we actually got to go up in the flight research plane for the Atmospheric Sciences Department. We got to sit up front with the pilot and put our hands on the controls. The most excitingly terrifying thing ever!”

These programs are designed to capture student interest in STEM fields, and Megan underlines that this is vital to Wyoming’s future. “Building a STEM pipeline is really important to workforce development. We want to give our students the information and the motivation to continue to learn about STEM careers and hopefully go on to make Wyoming a better place.”
Activity at a camp in conjunction with the Teton Science School

Read on for a list of the diverse programs available at UW this summer:

Program Date
5-Mar:State Math Counts
17-May:Women in Science
July 10-15:Health Careers Summer Camp - 10th/11th grade
July 17-22:Health Careers Summer Camp - 8th/9thth grade
July 24-29  Field Based Environmental Science at Spear-O-Wigwam Mountain Campus
June 12 - 17:Wyoming Energy Camp
June 12 - July 22:WY EPSCoR Summer Research Apprentice Program
June 13-July 21:Upward Bound
June 19 –June 24:Energy Summer Institute
June 19-25:Engineering Summer Program
June 21-23:Wyoming 4-H Showcase Showdown
June 5-25:High School Summer Institute
March 6-8:Wyoming State Science Fair